A Publication of WTVP

Hurricane Gustav dumped some much-needed rainfall on Midwestern corn and soybean fields the first week of September. Although hurricanes cause major destruction along the Gulf Coast, they tend to wind down by the time they reach Midwestern fields, leaving strong winds behind and bringing just rainfall. There have been many growing seasons in which a hurricane was the force needed to break the dry cycle of an August drought.

Thankfully, Gustav did not pack the winds that Katrina did three years earlier, sparing the Gulf Coast a major disaster—although, as I write this, there are more hurricanes lined up that may pack a bigger punch. Gustav did bring a record amount of rainfall for a one-day period in the Peoria area. Most of the rain soaked into the soil and is sure to add yield to the 2008 crop. Corn and soybeans will benefit, as the moisture will add weight and size to the kernels and beans.

At the beginning of August, it looked like another record-breaking corn crop was achievable, but a dry month cut some bushels off the final yield. A wet spring and summer gave plant roots easy access to moisture. As the dry August matured, roots were shallow and could not pull up enough moisture to develop all of the kernels that had been pollinated on the cobs a month earlier. With a lack of moisture, kernels begin to abort at the tip of the cob, working their way back to the base if the dry weather persists. A dry spell early in the growing season can actually boost yields because roots will develop deeper in the soil profile and be able to absorb the much-needed moisture when demand is highest in late July and August.

The insect and disease pressure has been minimal this year. There have been some reports of aphids on the soybeans and Japanese beetles clipping silks in the corn, but yield losses were not significant.

To a large extent, the good health of the crops can be attributed to the research and development in seed genetics. In recent years, corn and soybeans resistant to perennial insects, such as the European corn borer and western corn rootworm, have been developed. This seed technology has virtually eliminated these pests in the 2008 crop.

For over a decade, herbicide-tolerant soybean seed has been available to farmers. The most popular is Roundup. Researchers at Monsanto Company earned their keep with its discovery, and again with the development of Roundup-tolerant plants.

There is one catch to the widespread use of Roundup-tolerant plants: with 80 to 90 percent Roundup seed planted year after year, nature has a way of cracking the code, and some species of weeds have survived an application of Roundup. This will likely become an ever-increasing problem for Roundup Ready corn and soybeans. Other herbicides have been developed which may become more attractive to farmers in the years to come. iBi